RIDOT controlled the message on 6/10 Connector

One of the key ways that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) controlled the message on the 6/10 Connector and ensured that it would not be built as a boulevard was by controlling the format of suburban meetings.

As someone who didn’t drive but wanted to make an impact on this issue, it was a struggle to get to these meetings, the majority of which were held in places not affected by the issue.

RIDOT tried to control the format by presenting only its view of what the 6/10 Connector should look like. This was a real curve-ball and should have raised red flags. NBC 10 at the time covered the struggle that went on for me to present images I’d printed of what a boulevard could look like, and to explain what the concept could be.

What I found in practice was that white, middle class, often older and more conservative communities were open-minded to what was presented once you got it to them, but they didn’t come from a starting point of thinking in an urbanist way. The city meetings in Providence were packed with hundreds of people and held in two languages, but the suburban ones were smaller and quieter. But the suburban meetings had all sorts of unfair power assigned to them by politics. We underestimated how much RIDOT would game those meetings.

There are two key methods RIDOT used to control the message, and in the next highway removal fight (perhaps I-95) advocates need to be ready:

  1. RIDOT created a panopticon, especially at suburban meetings where it had more control. The Providence meetings were remarkably open and allowed different views to be publicly presented and explained, and a lot of feedback. The suburban meetings only presented RIDOT’s side of the engineering, and then attempted to set people off to give individualized comments at tables. We had to insist on being heard, and it was only because the mayhem that ensued was covered in an embarrassing way by NBC 10 that meetings started to get somewhat more open.
  2. The sound-bite is the enemy. And this also goes with the panopticon model. Sure, everyone could make a comment after RIDOT Directer Peter Alviti presented at these meetings, but his comments were the most lengthy and visually supported, so unless more space was given to explain a complex concept (i.e., removing a highway improves traffic and saves money) there’s no way to succeed.

Maybe if we learn from this experience, and are more demanding about where meetings are held, and the formats of those meetings, we’ll get better results.

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About James Kennedy 1 Article
James Kennedy is a public transportation and urban biking activist.

4 Comments

  1. This seems to be the new normal. Instead of actual hearings, the government tries to isolate people and not let them speak to the entire assemblage. Feds are doing this on the oil drilling. it is criiminal.

    • Thanks for the comment, Greg. I agree. I miss the crew up in Rhode Island. I have to admit that it’s easier for me to live down here in Philly as someone who doesn’t own/can’t afford a car, but I find myself periodically nostalgic for the Ocean State.

      I don’t want anyone to miss the key point here: the 6/10 Connector was practice for I-95. You all could organize a campaign to remove I-95, and frankly I think you’d do best to organize one on your own schedule. We organized the 6/10 Connector campaign on the idea that the thing was old and was in need of demolition or replacement, thinking we could make the case for demolition. But that time table was used against us. There’s absolutely nothing (other than politics and protocol) that says Mayor Elorza couldn’t call a PVD Fest on I-95, as a preparation for the idea of a city without highways. He’s not going to do it on his own, but people had the power to take over I-95 and shut it down for Black Lives Matter, and I think with the right organizing people could do the same to represent their desire to have a rail system expansion or a bus system expansion in place of all this highway spending.

      Be well, and let me know how this spring’s tadpoles turn out.

      –James

  2. Good post. My reactions: its not just that suburbanites being wealthier have more power so they get their way being able to speed thru urban neighborhoods without a thought to the neighborhood – its the auto culture that permeates even in urban areas, motorists are the priority over all. Even in the Olneyville 6-10 meeting the most comments were about neighborhood people losing access to one of the ramps.
    Greg makes a good point about how the agency “public” meetings don’t usually give the public an opportunity to address the public (though it is not “criminal,” – I wish Greg wouldn’t use such overstatements) – I’ve seen it a meetings about the proposed Providence train station bus hub (we we may waste about $35 million on an unnecessary facility) and RIPTA’s “enhanced downtown corridor” where about $17 million is at risk.
    The I-95 situation in Providence is even worse than suggested, RIDOT intends to not only replace the northbound viaduct, but to greatly widen it by adding at least two additional lanes (a new service road) , making the gash thru the city even wider, and at a cost of well over $200 million (original cost estimate I had seen for just a replacement was about $60 million) But motorists entering I-95 sometimes have to slow down, can’t have that for the poor dears!

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